Don't Let An Unknown Caller Talk You Into Downloading Software

In the wide world of scams, this combination of a phone call and computer malware is sort of a novel twist. Jay likes to string phone scammers along to waste their time, so he managed to get quite a few details about how this particular scam works. If you’ve got naive family members with access to computers, either take away their computers or tell them never to download software from a stranger on the phone.

Every couple of months, a boiler-room phone scammer catches me at home. I’ve learned not to immediately ask skeptical questions, as that only causes them to rudely hang up and move on to another victim. Instead, I now play along and try to waste as much of their time as possible. I thought I’d seen most of the popular scam schemes, but today I was called by a scammer that was using an entirely new tactic.

The call came in as “Unknown caller” on my Caller-ID. The caller announced that this was a “technical support” call from my Internet Service Provider (never specifying an ISP name), and emphasized that it was not a sales call. Following his script, he’d asked me if my computer had been running slow lately, if I’d seen “404 or 403 errors” when surfing the web, etc. I went along and said, yeah, my computer had been running slow.

To ensure that I was really talking to a scammer — and to waste their time — I started to rant about my (ficitious) ISP. And the caller agreed that my (fictitious) ISP had told him to call me.

Then, he went straight for the close: “Can you turn on your computer, and bring up a web browser? It’s already up? Good. Now go to http://www.f1compstepuk.com … let me spell that for you. You’re there? Good. Now click on the ‘Remote Assistance’ icon.” Since the “Remote Assistance” icon was a link to a file called “TeamViewer_Setup.exe”, I thought it might be a really good idea not to run it, so I quit playing along at that point.

The web site also has PayPal payment options for a $300/year for “unlimited tech support” subscription. Not sure if that’s just to make the site look more plausible, or if that’s another facet of their scam.

I can see how this scam could seem credible to a fairly large segment of the population; I’m hoping that Consumers Union gives it a little mass-market exposure so that someone’s grandma doesn’t get taken in by these guys.